Relax in Morro Bay along the Central California coast – beaches, parks, sea life, seafood, quaint shops, quirky museums
(Disclosure: My visit was hosted by San Luis Obispo County as part of a post-trip after the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) 2016 conference in Oxnard, California. Observations and opinions are my own.)
Morro Bay in California’s San Luis Obispo County is one of the few remaining fishing villages along the California coast. Tourists are attracted to its abundance of outdoor activities, numerous dining options, quaint shops and variety of sea life. I liked the relaxed, funky maritime feel.
The Embarcadero, Morro Bay’s waterfront, is a fun place to spend time and wander. Along the boardwalk you can find art galleries, boutiques, quirky shops and museums (a family-owned aquarium, a maritime museum and a skateboard museum). There are restaurants and bars featuring locally caught seafood, local wine and craft beers. Several have live entertainment. You can rent kayaks or paddle boards, get a scuba diving lesson, charter a fishing boat, or take a harbour cruise to see the sea otters and sea lions. Morro Bay is a migration stop for many birds. An estuary at the southern coastal area of the bay is home to hundreds of plants and animals.
Morro Bay, sometimes referred to as the Gibraltar of the Pacific, gets its name from its most prominent landmark, the 576 foot rock just off shore. Juan Rodriguez named Morro Rock in 1562. It is the last in a chain of long-extinct volcanoes. Morro Rock was once completely surrounded by water, but today is connected to shore by a causeway. Boats used to come into Morro Bay around both the north and south side of the Rock. High surfs and surging tides made for dangerous sailing. In the 1940s, a jetty closed the north entrance. The south entrance was dredged and a breakwater built. Some of the rocks for the breakwater were quarried from Morro Rock.
Climbing on Morro Rock is forbidden, as is disturbing its bird life. The weekend I was there, a story made the L.A. Times about a young man who had climbed the rock the day before. From the rock, he proposed to his girlfriend via Facetime. He descended the rock via a different route and became stranded, requiring helicopter rescue. He was fined for climbing the rock and liable for helicopter costs. That’s not a great start to an engagement. (I don’t think a Facetime proposal is such a great start either.)
The 450-feet-high power plant smoke stacks at the south end of the Embarcadero are also a landmark of sorts. The power plant opened in the 1950s and the industry shaped the town of Morro Bay, which became an incorporated city in 1964. The plant closed in 2014 because it was no longer economically viable and continued operation would have required expensive upgrades to meet new environmental regulations. The future of the plant and the land it occupies is currently unclear.
The Morro Bay area has several parks and beaches. The popular Morro Bay Beach is adjacent to Morro Rock. A few blocks away from the water, downtown Morro Bay offers more shopping, with a number of antique, thrift and specialty stores.
Morro Bay is 200 miles north of Los Angeles and 240 miles south of San Francisco, along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway #1. There are many hotels and inns to chose from. I stayed at Ascot Inn on the Rock, a block from the Embarcadero, and highly recommend it.
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